India lose first round of the battle
The last day's play in the first Test in Mumbai raised an intriguing question. Did South Africa win this game or did India lose it? If one looked carefully at the way the game progressed, the opinion would have to be that India lost the match.
The first battle was lost while selecting the team. The inclusion of Ajay Jadeja at No 6 meant straightaway that India were playing with one player short. Jadeja's record in Test cricket is unimpressive. Moreover, in the Board President's XI game against South Africa, he made scores of 2 and 3. Hardly the kind of scores that warrants Test selection. The non-inclusion of Nikhil Chopra might also have had a bearing on the game as India were clearly one spinner short in the final innings.
India began well, winning the toss. And with that India's good run ended. Batting first, India made just 225 on a track that looked good for batting. The South African pacemen were too hot for everyone in the team save Tendulkar. The captain made a brave 97 but was not backed up by any of his teammates. In response, India did well to restrict the South Africans to 176. Apart from the openers, none of the visitors made runs.
A lead of 49 was quite handy, and far more than the Indians would have hoped for after South Africa were 90 for no loss. What they needed was a solid second innings performance. If they had put between 150 and 170 on the board they could have given South Africa a run for their money. Instead, they collapsed inexplicably. Doing far worse than their first innings, India folded up for just 113 runs. In an all too familiar script, the openers failed, the middle order collapsed and the tail refused to wag. A couple of twitches of the tail came late in the innings when Mongia, batting at No 11, made 19 off just 10 balls. In the middle of all this, the man we knew as Rahul `The Wall' Dravid stuttered and stumbled, making a painful 37 in over three hours. He was totally unable to either score freely or make runs with the tail and one wondered what happened to the young man who made centuries in tough conditions in both New Zealand and South Africa.
There are certainly some tough mental battles raging in Dravid's head and the sooner he sorts them out the better for Indian cricket. The crowds were on the verge of chanting Rahul `The crawl' Dravid and that surely would have been a severe slap in the face.
India simply did not have it in them to defend 163. Not on a third day Wankhede wicket. Though the South Africans struggled to negotiate the spinners, they made it home with four wickets to spare. Gibbs and Boucher made useful contributions and an elated Allen Donald ran into the field as Boucher smashed the winning runs through midwicket.
Though Tendulkar was named man of the match, this was little consolation for the Indian skipper. India have begun badly in the series. To reverse the momentum will be a tough task. The South Africans are not the kind of team that will fritter away their chances.